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Local Arts Index: How Many Artists are Working in Your County?

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

This post is one in a series highlighting the Local Arts Index (LAI) by Americans for the Arts. The LAI provides a set of measures to help understand the breadth, depth, and character of the cultural life of a community. It provides county-level data about arts participation, funding, fiscal health, competitiveness, and more. Check out your county and compare it to any of the nation’s 3,143 counties at ArtsIndexUSA.org.

Today we release Local Arts Index indicators #7 and #8 (out of 50).

Solo artists are the spark!

Independent artists are one of the most vivid pieces of evidence that the arts are thriving in a place. Solo artists, regardless of artistic medium or discipline, are very often both the fuel and the spark of a local arts scene. Many artists are also entrepreneurs, launching their work into the world through their own studios, performance spaces, and readings. Overall, we think of the presence of solo artists as a marker of the capacity of a community to deliver the arts.

The Census Bureau provides data on the number of “non-employer” businesses (a business with only a proprietor and no staff) for many industries, including some arts ones. This indicator measures the number of solo artists per 100,000 residents of a county.

Nationally, there were 678,000 of these “artist entrepreneurs” in 2009. While this is almost certainly an “undercount,” it is an interesting measure that can be tracked at a county level over time, so we include it in our national and local arts indexes.

In the typical county, 148 solo artist businesses can be found. 

Share of your county’s employees that work for an arts business

This indicator measures the number of Creative Industries employees in each county per 100,000 residents.

High per capita numbers mean there are more employment opportunities available, while comparatively low per capita numbers suggest comparatively fewer.

The Creative Industries (nonprofit and for-profit businesses involved in the creation or distribution of the arts) are based on data obtained annually from Dun & Bradstreet, one of the most comprehensive and trusted sources for business information in the U.S.

Nationally, the average is about 1.18 percent, and the median is 0.98 percent. The fact that these numbers are smaller than the corresponding arts share of all businesses implies that arts and culture businesses are smaller than other kinds of businesses.

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